After a while, Fredd figured he wasn’t going to vomit anymore, so he unwrapped himself from the toilet, got up and tried to walk around. His knees – like most of the rest of him — were wobbly. He staggered around the bridge, which was empty but still cramped – he was the only on left on the ship, left as a sort of hostage to that disgusting spider. He touched his neck, it was still a little swollen and bruised around the two mandible-holes. It was horrible, would be even if he wasn’t afraid of spiders. The way she held him close, clamped on, and lapped up his blood with those horrid sucking noises – and she insisted making him rub her silky hair, her exoskeleton and sensitive areas, long after she was finished with the drinking, clinging to him, whispering things in his ear like: “Oh, my hot-blooded little sac of delight! My tasty mammalian morsel! I want to consume you! Absorb you! Suck you totally into my being!”
Just thinking about it made him want to vomit again, but he didn’t – either too weak or just plain empty for even the dry heaves.
Touching the control-plate, he caused the ship’s dome to go transparent. Might as well see where he was – Nwatta-Nwatta-Nwatta, some parking lot, if he remembered right.
And what a parking lot! A vast corroded mess, a gravity-less jumble of what looked like mechanical gargoyles that sparked and made impassioned noises of mechanical delirium. Spaceships of all shapes and sizes, from all over the Galaxy – some complete and shining with newness, others encrusted with vile organic growths from being away from vacuum too long, or grossly incomplete from being stripped for spare parts. It was like a cemetery, with all the graves open and the inhabitants not quite through with the process of dying. A few had prices sprayed on their sides, all of which seemed to be a few thousand megacredits too high – yeah, it was also supposed to be a used spaceship lot. It certainly was a mess, an awful dump.
The only thing remotely cheerful was the lack of gravity – the way everything just hung in the air. So relaxing! What the hell, he flicked off the ship’s inboard gravity and did some floating of his own.
He toed the intercom. Might as well see how Zipper, the ship’s biobrain was doing.
“Hey, Zip,” he said, “You okay? How’s it going?”
No answer at first, then: “. . . uh, yes . . . who is it . . . what is it? . . . where am I?”
“You seem to be a little out of it there. Have enough Numnax?”
“. . . yeah, guess I’m sort of ‘naxed over . . . those INRs do keep creeping in though . . . can feel the little buggers chew away at my subconscious . . . it kind of tickles . . . don’t hurt . . . think I’ll be needing a little more Numnax . . . soon . . .”
Fredd looked around. “Don’t seem to see any more Numnax around. Maybe they’ll bring some when they come back.”
“. . . come . . . back? . . . where’d everybody go?”
“To look for work. Or otherwise snag us a few megacredits for our overdue rent, to get TT&T off our tails.”
“Yeah . . . that would be nice. Wish they would hurry though . . . I can feel this dose wearing off.”
“Just try to get some sleep then. Relax.”
“Okay . . .”
Fredd soon got tired of floating around, turned the gravity back on, took a shower, had himself a hamburger and a cup of coffee, then resigned himself to lounging around in a fur-lined bathrobe.
He was beginning to feel good when something moving out there among the living/dead spaceships made him break into a cold sweat. Gracefully leaping from hulk to hulk was a giant, low-gravity spider: Sucky Face. She was almost beautiful in the environment she was designed for, but she still scared him to death.
Why did he have to insist on running off to space, only become second banana on a tramp star cruiser? He should have listened to his mother and become a doctor.
No – he couldn’t stand the sight of blood or being around sick people. Become a lawyer like his father wanted? No, that would have meant going on in school and he was terrified of tests and authority figures. Or maybe . . . Naw, it seemed that everything he had ever tried led him to something he was afraid of, something he would end up running away from, and space travel seemed to be the ultimate form of running away.
Then he met Rocco, who didn’t seem to be afraid of anything – if he could only learn to be like him! But spacing out with him meant being trapped in a spaceship headed for all kinds of horrifying situations – like being abandoned in a creepy parking lot, being courted by a giant spider given to erotic vampirism!
“Freddy, my beloved,” she said as she hopped into Zipper’s airlock. “Be a sweet-juicy thing and turn down the gravity a bit? I want to stay with you a while, and you know I can’t stand it too strong!”
That’s it, he thought. She was designed for low-gravity. All he’d have to do is go over to the grav control, his hand could slip and – SPLAT! – his problems would be over. There were no laws against murder in Nwatta-Nwatta-Nwatta. He’d be free.
His hand froze on the dial. He couldn’t do it. He never killed anybody in his life. When he killed animals or insects as a child he was always sick afterwards. He remembered this one big spider he stepped on; it was nowhere near as big as Sucky Face, but it took almost his full weight on one foot to crush it – then all this jelly-like stuff oozed out all over the place, sticking to his shoe and the sidewalk, leaving long strings as he walked away. This would be worse, no doubt – purée of spider guts all over the bridge, and he’d probably have to clean it up, too.
“Thank you, my love,” she said as she glided in. There was something different about that eight-eyed, vertical-mouthed face – eight tiny waxed-and curled moustaches, one beside each eye, giving the effect of elaborate scroll-work. Too much.
“You like them?” she said, twirling the end of one. “I did them for you.”
For him. She was trying to impress him. Must have figured he likes moustaches – after all, he did have one himself.
She then drifted over (gracefully, but Fredd’s mind wasn’t capable of appreciating the aesthetics of the situation) and took him in a pair of arms that were also capable of functioning as legs and started to pull his face toward hers. He hoped she wasn’t expecting him to kiss her, he wouldn’t know how – she didn’t have any lips!
Just as her mandibles gently opened and brushed against his cheeks, Zipper said, “Uh, look out Fredd! The Numnax is beginning to wear off, and I can’t fight –” then went into an Involuntary Nagging Reminder, “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW! PLEASE PAY THE RENT ON ME! SOMEHOW! ANYHOW! STEAL SOME MONEY! SELL EACH OTHER! ANYTHING! JUST BEAM THAT MONEY TO TT&T AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! NO, MAKE THAT SOON EVEN IF IMPOSSIBLE! JUST DO IT, NOW! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!”
Sucky Face let Fredd go and began fumbling through her purse.
“They get worse as they go on,” said Fredd.
“How much Numnax does that zapped thing need to keep shut up?” she asked as she handed Fredd another packet.
“I’m afraid a lot more than this if my friends don’t scrounge up some megacredits soon,” he said while feeding it into Zipper’s bio-injector.
She grabbed his sleeve with three hands, pulled him toward her, and said, “You know, Numnax isn’t exactly cheap here in Nwatta-Nwatta-Nwatta. We agreed that I’d be able to dip into you for seconds, but depending on what kind of luck your friends have out there in these mean corridors, you may have to give me thirds,” she slipped a hand under his robe, “fourth,” and another, “fifths,” and another, “sixths,” and another, etc., etc.
“Uh, I get the idea,” he said, dreading the possibility.
“And now, sweet-blood,” she whispered into his hear as she stroked his pony-tail with one hand, braided his long moustache-ends with another and pulled him a little closer than he’d hoped possible with still another, “it’s fun time!”
As the mandibles approached his neck, Fredd grimaced and tightened up every muscle in his body.
“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Still afraid? Relax. It’s going to be just like the last time. It won’t hurt a bit – not very much, that is!”
“It’s just that I wish you picked Jorgita for this,” he said, causing her to pout, a funny little spider-pout. “She really likes this sort of thing . . .”
“But she’s a female humanoid. I’ve tried them. They’re all soft and hard in the wrong places – besides, their blood tastes different. Must be the hormones. Besides, I don’t want her, I want you! Don’t you like me . . .?”
She didn’t give him time to answer, just let her fangs slowly apply pressure to his skin.
Then he had a horrible paranoid thought and said, “Wait! You don’t happen to be venomous, do you?”
Not even breaking away, she said, “Venomous? Me? As a matter of fact – yes. But don’t worry, I haven’t injected you with any – I wouldn’t do that – no, maybe I should, just a little. It’s very mild and does have some interesting side-effects that you may enjoy . . .”
If only he’d kept his mouth shut! Now he not only had to go through this again, but he would get some exotic kind of venom in him to boot! With his luck he’d probably have an allergic reaction and die – yeah, that’s it, before she’s finished. It would serve her right!
No, probably with the way his luck had been running, he’d probably get sick first, and it would take him weeks to die – he’d be too weak to resist, and she’d suck him again and again, and once Rocco and the women got back they’d probably feel bad, but then say, “What the hell, Sucky Face, why don’t you just drink all his blood? He’s going to die anyway and won’t be needing it any more . . .” And of course, he’d be fully conscious the whole time, able to feel everything that was happening to him – but unable to protest or resist.
How he wished he was somewhere else, doing something else, with someone else! What he’d give to be making love to Zoltara Fzzits, his favorite ion singer! Now, that he could really get into, even if it did have dangerous side-effects!
Suddenly, everything got all blurred, rippley and muffled – the venom! That was it. Mild, eh? For whom? He didn’t want to suffer. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to do this! He wanted Zoltara . . . and then as if by magic the spider refocused into Zoltara Fzzits – eyes and ionized hair the same electric blue, almost transparent skin, fluorescent teeth glowing hungrily. They were both naked, floating in zero-G, sending off sparks every time they touched. “More, more,” he moaned, and she eagerly obliged. It was wonderful.
The only thing that bothered him was that every once in a while he’d get the feeling that in reality he was being bitten by a giant spider.
Consciousness oozed back into Fredd’s badly abused nervous system. He was going through the whole disorientation bit, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to get reoriented again. The usual Where-am-I popped into his head. Why should he care where the hell he was? He had the feeling that he’d probably be better off not knowing his location, or what had recently happened to him. It was the most peculiar feeling – not quite remembering some wonderful dream or horrible nightmare, or some horrible dream or wonderful nightmare that left him totally drained.
Wonderful nightmare? Not him! He hated nightmares, especially his own. There was enough absurdity in the universe without adding to it. The whole universe is completely insane! to quote an ancient philosopher he’d seen in some crumbling illuminated manuscripts in a museum on his one and only trip to Earth.
Another phrase of ancient wisdom popped into his head: Don’t try to understand ‘em – just rope ‘em, throw and brand ‘em. Ah, the philosophies of the Mystic West . . . they could easily drive you stark raving bananas, or any of five thousand varieties of tropical fruit.
Then his location became evident. The bridge . . . oh, the bridge . . . Zipper’s bridge . . . still in that horrid Nwatta-Nwatta-Nwatta airlock/parking lot/used spaceship lot. Didn’t it belong to some kind of low-grav (shudder) giant spider?
Oh yeah, her name was Sucky Face, or something disgusting like that . . . and she had been there with him, close . . . ugh, too close! Or wasn’t that Zoltara Fzzits? Which one? Sucky Face wasn’t an electrified living doll, but then Zoltara Fizzts didn’t have eight legs . . . hm . . . it was definitely Zoltara Fzzits and/or Sucky Face. And/or? The boy was confused.
His confusion didn’t abate when Sucky Face came bounding in, so graceful in the reduced gravity – he couldn’t get over how she looked beautiful in her own element; if it weren’t for all those legs, eyes, and moustaches and erotic vampirism, he could almost bring himself to think about liking her. The tastes, smells, textures and electrical charge were so clear in his memory . . . how could that be?
“Why, my darling sweet-blood,” the spider cooed. “You’re alive again!”
He suddenly wished he weren’t. Dead would be nice (if not entirely desirable). If only he were making love to Zoltara Fzzits, like last night – or was it just a dream?
“I’ve brought you something to eat,” she said, pushing something fleshy and shapeless into his hands, like a balloon filled with a thick, syrupy liquid – Ooze-Fruit.
She stuck her fangs into hers an began to sucky-face away. Fredd felt nauseated. To think that not long ago she was doing the same to his neck!
Pausing from her meal, she said, “Aw, come on littly Freddy-weddy! You gotta eaty-eaty! You lost a lot of blood last night and Sucky Face wants you all strong and healthy to get it all back.” She stroked his pony-tail with a delicate, claw-like hand, “just in case . . .”
“Just in case – what?”
“Well,” she twined her fingers in his hair, “you know, your friends aren’t back yet, and may not be for a while . . . I do charge by the day for this space . . .”
Oh no, he thought as he took a slurp of his Ooze Fruit (to his surprise, the juice tasted like a chocolate-chip cookie), she wants a refill! He coughed chocolate-chip cookie flavored syrup all over the place as the Ooze-Fruit resealed itself.
“No, don’t you go and be that way,” she said, taking him in several arms. “You can’t tell me you didn’t enjoy yourself last night! I know ecstasy when I see it. You loved it . . . me!” She began to lick Ooze-Fruit juice off his chest.
The muscles in Fredd’s face went limp as his moustache. He gulped. Took a deep breath. And said, “Oh yeah, that. Strange, real strange. There you were, sucking my blood, making me sick – then it all got fuzzy, and then, well, I could have sworn that I was making love to Zoltara Fzzits!”
All eight of her eyes flashed. Her mandibles clamped tight, making two deep punctures next to his left nipple. Then she took him and threw him across the bridge, bouncing him off the ceiling, floor and three control panels before he came to a halt wrapped around Rocco’s contour chair.
“Yweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeth!” she screamed, all insectoid and nerve-ripping. “It happened again! It always happens! Nova everything! It’s alway this way! You can have your rotting, parasite-infested blood! I hate you! I ought to dump you and this ship out into space and kill your friends when they come back!” Then she scurried to the nearest airlock.
Fredd crawled to an open area of floor, stretched out and tried to figure how many bruises his ping-ponging around had gotten him. This is great, he thought . He would be thrown out into space; Zipper’s Numnax would wear off, his life-support system would shut off and he would succumb to that nagging urge to repossess himself; and Rocco, Jorgita, and Twyla would be torn to ribbons by a crazed, love-sick spider. Or if they all did manage to survive they’d probably make a point of tracking him down even if they had to do a world-by-world search for the entire Galaxy and kill him in some ingenious manner that would allow all three of them to contribute equally to his painful demise. Ah, doom, sweet, doom. He welcomed it with every cell of his pain-racked body.
At least he wouldn’t have to worry about Sucky Face having her way with him again!
The Boomblister reminded Fredd of the Ooze-Fruit as he carefully, really carefully, held it in his teeth. He touched it with his tongue – it had no taste whatsoever. Like vacuum. Space. Nothingness. Death.
All he would have to do was break the Boomblister, blow his head off, and all his problems would be solved. His blood would be all over the place, where Sucky Face could lap it up until it was all gone. Surely she’d consider it a fair price and let the others stay until they could find a gig. She’d probably be so happy that she’d give Zipper all the Numnaz he needed. Beautiful. All he had to do was bite down.
So why couldn’t he? His tongue retracted from the tasteless sphere, and his jaw muscles wouldn’t move. He was a hopeless case. Even afraid to end it all.
“EYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAG!” screamed Zipper, causing Fredd to shut his eyes and (ever so slightly) tighten the grip of his teeth on the Boomblister.
“WHERE IS THAT NUMAX!” Zipper continued. “HAVEN’T YOU SPLATTERBRAINS PAID THE RENT YET? HOW HARD CAN IT BE TO SCRAPE UP A FEW MEGACREDITS? HAVEN’T YOU EVER EXPERIENCE PAIN BEFORE? DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU’RE PUTTING ME THROUGH? I’M TALKLING GALAXY-LEAGUE AGONY HERE!”
Fredd began to realize what he had done. His eyelids popped up, irises expanded. His teeth had sunk into the tissue-thin skin of the Boomblister, which had triggered a reaction in its unstable, gelatinous insides. It was getting warm, building up to an explosion, and was expanding, wedging itself tighter in his teeth. He tried to open his jaws wider, but couldn’t pry it loose.
“YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY IMAGINE HOW HORRIBLE THIS IS?!”
His first reaction was to jump around in panic, but he caught himself and froze – no, he didn’t want to do that, it would agitate the explosive even more. No, what he had to do was get the damned thing out of his mouth . . . somehow. He uneasily brought his shaking fingers to the blob in his teeth.
“I COULD JUST DIE! DIE! DIE!”
It was getting hotter, would be burning soon. He could get it to wiggle, a little bit. Yes, it could come out – if he was careful and took it easy – but what would he do with it then? He couldn’t just randomly toss it aside on the bridge. An explosion there could be disastrous. They would never be able to replace all that delicate equipment.
“OH NO, I THINK I AM DYING! YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE OOOOOOOOOOOOW!”
The airlock! Outside! He’d have to throw it out into the parking lot. He took a step toward the airlock. Was it pressurized out there? Sure it was, it had to be. He took another giant step.
“AM I DEAD YET?”
One more step. He was in front of the inner door of the airlock. He was about to touch it open when –
“OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I’M STILL ALIVE!”
The door slooshed open – all by itself! His heart stopped and/or exploded. The Boomblister got hotter as he involuntarily leapt back. He shut his eyes, braced himself . . .
“I’M STILL ALIVE! THIS AGONY IS GOING TO GO ON, AND ON, AND ON . . .”
No explosion. No death. Like Zipper he was still alive. He’d have to face whatever was in store for him. If only he could bring himself to open his eyes.
“. . . AND ON, AND ON, AND ON, AND ON, AND ON, AND ON, AND ON . . .”
“Freddy?” He heard a soft, seductive voice. “I . . I’m sorry that I got mad at you like that. Can you ever forgive me?”
He opened his eyes. It was Sucky Face, with humility radiating from all eight of her eyes. The heat on his mouth was beginning to become unbearable. His hands fluttered, pointing.
“. . . AND ON, AND ON, AND ON, AND ON . . .”
“Holy entropy! What’s that in your mouth?” she said, plucking it out with a loud POP!, touching open the outer door and throwing it out, where it exploded, sending off a shock-wave that jostled several ships in their moorings.
“A bomb?” she said, “What were you doing with a bomb in your mouth?”
“. . . AND ON, AND ON, AND ON . . .”
“Well . . .” he said. “It’s just that . . . I was trying to kill myself.”
“Kill yourself?” She put a hand on his shoulder. “Why?”
“I’m such a miserable coward! I’m afraid of everything! The universe. Life. Spiders . . .”
“You mean you’re afraid of me?” she asked, putting another couple of hands on him.
“. . . AND ON, AND ON . . .”
“You don’t have to be afraid of me,” she said. “I’d never hurt you. I love you. Even if you don’t love me. I don’t care. That’s what I came back to tell you. It doesn’t matter to me if you’d rather have Zoltara Fzzits.”
He sniffed. “If I ever really met Zoltara Fizzits . . . I wouldn’t be able to talk to her . . . I’d be afraid!”
She held him in a few more arms, and said, “There, there.”
“I guess,” he said, “you’re the closest I’m ever going to get to her.”
“. . . AND ON . . .”
“Poor darling,” she said, drawing him closer, bringing her mandibles to his neck. “It all must be so hard for you. I didn’t realize . . . don’t cry . . . I’ll be Zoltara for you . . .”
He gritted his teeth as she bit, and began to suck, until, finally, the venom began to take effect.
“. . . AND ON . . .”
“There,” said Fredd, “that should be enough Numnax to keep him quiet a while.”
He looked over and expected to see Zoltara Fzzits – but no, it was Sucky Face who was lounging on the other side of the bridge. She still repulsed him, he could barely stand to look at her – yet the illusion of having Zoltara was firmly connected with her in his mind.
“That should be nice for you,” she said, preening all those little moustaches. “Should give you some nice peace and quiet to rest in.”
“Rest?” he said. He felt fine – a little lightheaded maybe, but fine. He had just spent hours making love to Zoltara Fizzts and felt charged with her energy. He couldn’t believe when he looked in the mirror that his hair and moustache weren’t sticking straight out with the electricity.
“I don’t feel like resting,” he said, swallowing his fears – she was still ugly as ever, all his phobias had remained intact – looked directly into her eight eyes, remembered how it felt to be lost in Zoltara’s electric embrace, “I – I’d like to,” gulp, “do it again . . . please . . .”
“Again,” all those eyes lit up. “Why, you absolute dear.” She gently pinched him with three hands. “That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? But we just can’t.”
“Can’t,” he didn’t understand, wasn’t this what she wanted? “Why?”
“Silly, silly boy,” she said with a shake of an oddly fragile-looking finger. “We can’t so soon. You’re short on blood and I wouldn’t want to get all carried away and drain you dry. You’d die, die, die. Then there’d be absolutely no more, and I’d be sad. Besides – I happen to be fresh out of venom at the moment!” She took his face in a couple of hands, “We’re just going to have to wait!
“There, there,” she said, nibbling on his ear. “It’s not all that bad. I have a business to run here, you know, another day, another megacredit! And you can rest up, eat and perform bodily functions. Be sure to turn the gravity up to whatever’s normal for you – I wouldn’t want you to get weak or sick or anything like that. With any luck, your friends could be days in looking for work – it could be absolute heaven for us here!” She gave him an arachnid equivalent of a kiss. “I’ll be back soon!” She fluttered off.
He couldn’t believe it – he was actually sorry to see her go, and anxious to have her back. No, not her – Zoltara Fizzits! His emotions were locked in an endless series of exhausting wars that would have not victors and prove nothing when they were all over. Yup, that ancient Earth philosopher was right, the universe was completely insane. He was living proof of that.
He sigh, punched up three chilidogs and a coke, and put on a Zoltara Fizzts chip – her bit hit, “Zap in Your Lap,” was his favorite. He put his feet up on his control panel (and was careful not to accidentally turn anything on or off), remembered about the gravity, adjusted it to Earth-normal, and started to count the minutes until his Sucky Face came back.
This story previously appeared in The Hardback Magazine, Issue Two: Winter 1988.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Ernest Hogan is the author of High Aztech, Cortez on Jupiter, and Smoking Mirror Blues, his work has appeared in Analog, Amazing Stories, Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, and most recently, Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology. Check out his website for more info.